Like all states (and countries) Pennsylvania is facing a new set of realities every day as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 11, 2020, Governor Tom Wolf outlined his plan for relief, reopening, and recovery: an approach based on those “re” words that REVITALIZATION subscribers (and readers of Storm Cunningham‘s books) know and love.
Here’s a brief overview of the plan:
PHASE 1: RELIEF
Before we can build a better commonwealth, we need to protect our friends and neighbors.
The Wolf Administration has taken broad and far-reaching actions to help meet the short- and long-term needs of individual Pennsylvanians in the face of this unprecedented pandemic.
Ensuring Pennsylvanians from all walks of life have access to the resources they need has been, and will continue to be, a top priority for the governor.
PHASE 2: REOPENING
With new case counts showing that these aggressive efforts have flattened the curve, the governor and his administration will begin to plan for a reopening process that protects Pennsylvanians and helps to stabilize the economy.
To that end, the administration will work with economic and public health experts to determine the metrics used for safe reopening by taking a regional, sector-based approach.
In consultation with Team PA, the Department of Health, the Department of Community and Economic Development, the Department of Labor and Industry, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and others, the administration will develop guidance for businesses, local governments, workers, customers, and others and guide a safe reopening process.
PHASE 3: RECOVERY
Together we can build a safe, prosperous future for Pennsylvania. Over the coming weeks and months, the Wolf Administration will collaborate with the legislature, stakeholders, and Pennsylvanians to build on the governor’s ideas for recovery so that we can emerge from this pandemic stronger.
Recovery for Pennsylvanians
Developing a recovery framework and programs that make a difference for the people of Pennsylvania is paramount. That framework must include, at a minimum:
- Fair, family-sustaining wages for all Pennsylvanians.
- Increase the minimum wage to $12 with a path to $15.
- Provide additional hazard pay for essential, front-line workers during a public health emergency.
- Enactment of better worker protection standards.
- Employees should not be discharged, penalized, or discriminated against if they isolate or quarantine related to COVID-19.
- Employers must maintain safe and healthy environments.
- Protections should also exist for employees who report workplace violations.
- Expansion of paid sick and family leave policies.
- Expand paid sick and family and medical leave policies to ensure that workers can take care of their health and that of their family when needed.
- Expansion of safe, affordable, and high-quality child care.
- Strengthening of the Unemployment and Workers Compensation Insurance systems.
- Expand Unemployment Compensation (UC) benefits for self-employed, gig economy workers, and independent contractors similar to the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
- Expand Workers’ Compensation (WC) for health care workers, emergency responders, grocery store and food supply workers, and other essential workers at life-sustaining businesses that are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 at work.
- Broad funding flexibilities to support continuity of education and continued active distance learning (including planned instruction and enrichment) for all students. This should include a specific focus on increased flexibilities for students with disabilities who may have challenges learning remotely.
- Expand the authority of the secretary of education to mandate continuity of education and continued active distance learning (including planned instruction and enrichment) for all students during a public health emergency established by a gubernatorial disaster declaration.
- Require all educators to receive professional development on virtual teaching and online learning techniques; require all student teachers to be trained to develop and deliver online courses; allow student teachers to use online teaching to count toward some of their student teaching requirements.
- Accountability and transparency for spending and dispensation of federal, state, and local resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Expansion of student loan forgiveness and repayment programs, particularly focusing on debt relief for individuals who are the front lines of responding the COVID-19 disaster.
- Expansion of rapid re-employment programs to support businesses and workers, with an emphasis on businesses and individuals impacted by the business closure order and COVID-19-related layoffs based on Labor Market Information and UC data
Recovery for Businesses
While the plan for long-term recovery still lies ahead, there are already lessons learned from this disaster that allow us to put markers down for where we need to go once the disaster subsides.
There is still much we do not know, including when businesses can begin to reopen safely. But the broad contours of a policy agenda in the future must include the following:
- An evidence-based state innovation strategy that allows Pennsylvania to attract the best and brightest people and companies.
- The governor’s 20-21 proposed budget includes a Pennsylvania innovation plan that proposes a $12.35 million funding increase to drive an evidence-based, statewide innovation strategy.
- Vigorous financial support for small businesses, both short-term to limit the number of businesses that would otherwise have to close their doors for good while we shelter in place, and long-term as small businesses restructure and recover in a post-COVID-19 economy.
- Recapitalization of the COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program to provide relief to businesses that will still need working capital funds to reopen after the shutdown.
- The creation of a grant program for our smallest businesses, which make no more than $3 million in gross annual receipts or employ up to 30 full-time employees.
- Economic development incentives to attract companies willing to create and retain good-paying jobs.
- Exploration of manufacturing tax credits for manufacturers who convert or retrofit their facilities or operations in order to produce personal protective equipment to help with the COVID-19 response.
- Provide a tax credit for businesses that convert or retrofit their existing facility and operations to produce or aid in the production of PPE to assist with COVID-19 response.
- Investment, upgrade, and extension of Pennsylvania’s broadband network to ensure all Pennsylvanians have access to the internet.
- Resources for students, families, workers and/or incentivizing businesses to expand access to broadband to support remote learning and job search activities (e.g. hot spots, grants for internet, etc.).
- Develop a donation drive for laptops and mobile hotspots and repurpose excess state-owned hotspots to kick off the drive with a partnership between the Department of Community and Economic Development and the Department of Education. Encourage private and public partners to donate their unused or surplus of hotspot devices for students in need.
- Investments in our diverse agriculture industry, robust food processing sector, farmers markets, and the many industries that support a safe food supply. While this industry is life-sustaining, it has suffered a severe disruption in its supply chain, and recovery must ensure the certainty and future of Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry to continue to produce a safe, secure food supply.
- Governor Wolf proposed full funding of $23.1 million for the historic PA Farm Bill in his FY 20-21 budget proposal, in addition to a $1 million increase to the PA Agriculture Surplus System (PASS) Program to improve food security while supporting PA agriculture. PA Farm Bill programs such as the Small Meat Processor grants, Urban Agriculture Infrastructure Grants and the Ag Business Development Center all help to increase processing infrastructure and strengthen local food systems, and provide tools to help producers bring more products to market and plan a path to recovery and resiliency.
- Establish a food processing reimbursement fund through the Department of Agriculture that would cover the costs borne by food processing facilities to invest in worker safety measures.
- Fund a state match for double up SNAP bucks. The USDA’s Gus Shumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (former Double Up SNAP Bucks) is a program that increases the purchasing power of SNAP recipients by providing a dollar-for-dollar match to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat products at participating grocery stores and farmers markets. Through USDA funding, a pilot program has been administered by the Food Trust in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to a limited degree. A state-level investment million would allow DHS in consultation with PDA to develop and administer a statewide program to maximize the buying power of SNAP recipients to purchase additional Pennsylvania products at grocery stores and farmers markets. This investment would leverage additional federal dollars.
- Fund and codify in statute the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative to provide grants and low-interest loans for the construction, rehabilitation, or expansion of grocery stores, farmers markets, and other healthy food retail establishments in low- to moderate-income areas in need and other underserved communities.
- H2A employers and employees pay into the UC fund even though those workers aren’t eligible for UC. Changing this requirement to pay into the state’s unemployment fund would save money for our farm families and their seasonal H-2A employees.
- Robust funding for nonprofit organizations and local governments with less than 500,000 residents.
- Investment and upgrades for the commonwealth’s mass transit systems, highway, and bridge infrastructure.
Recovery for Health Care Systems and Providers
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the fragmentations within our health systems. Pennsylvania has banned together to support and equip our hospitals and medical professionals with the tools they need to respond, but our recovery is dependent upon long-term policy change. A policy agenda to support the health and recovery of Pennsylvania’s residents must include:
- Health care coverage for all Pennsylvanians that is affordable and transparent, and a system that allows for choice in coverage.
- Ensuring the protections of the Affordable Care Act are in place at the state level, to ensure that people with pre-existing conditions, including Pennsylvanians recovered from COVID-19, can obtain full coverage and not worry about lifetime or annual caps on coverage should they need further care.
- Making sure that patients who seek out in-network care aren’t surprised with a bill for treatment by an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility.
- Requiring transparency in short-term limited duration insurance products and protecting consumers who need to fill an unexpected gap in coverage.
- Further building on work the administration has done to cut bureaucratic red tape and make it easier for new Pennsylvanians, including military spouses, with an out-of-state occupational license to work. Greater flexibility is needed in licensure requirements for a broad set of out of state practitioners interested in providing care in Pennsylvania.
- Continued telehealth expansion and adoption of telehealth as a primary mode of health care delivery for physical and mental health services as well as substance use disorder treatment. New telehealth policy should be inclusive of accessible modes of communication such as telephonic delivery when other means are unavailable. Additionally, telehealth services should be reimbursed at the same rates as if the services were delivered in person.
- Significant increases in housing services and investment in low-income housing development to reduce the number of Pennsylvanians unable to be safely discharged due to lack of shelter and to promote health and wellness in community settings.
- Continued prioritization of home and community-based services to reduce congregate placements for children, individuals with disabilities, and seniors.
- Increased and more formalized role for community-based organizations in health and wellness activities and health care delivery. This pandemic has made clear that health does not begin and end in the doctor’s office, let alone in a hospital, and Pennsylvania’s community-based organizations have an important role to play.